When you think about the Indiana Pacers in the past decade, thoughts pretty much return to the brawl in Detroit. That fight completely ruined the team's chances that year and started the downfall of the organization.
Now the Pacers have missed the playoffs every year since the 2005-2006 season. With an organization that looked to have so much promise, it went downhill fast.
We witnessed the complete rebuilding of the team with the retiring of Reggie Miller, the firing of coach Rick Carlisle, and the loss of Jermaine O'Neal. The Pacers are a completely different team than the one we saw fighting back in the Palace.
After last year's player improvement, this year's team comes with a new look that is ready to become a top-eight team in the eastern conference.
Roy Hibbert stepped up into a big role averaging 11 points a game and was the team's leading rebounder with about six a game. While it doesn't show up a lot in his stats Hibbert took great strides in the past season by becoming a big man that has to be reckoned with. He has to keep improving and playing to his potential so they can be playing come playoff time.
Not just Hibbert had a good season though. Danny Granger continued to be a consistent shooting threat while putting up 24 points a game. This season, I'd like to see him bring up his three-point shooting percentage from the 35 percent and continue to score more points and lead this team.
The addition of Darren Collison won't hurt. While replacing Chris Paul in New Orleans last season, Collison put together a pretty good campaign by averaging 12 points and six assists. No, he isn't anything close to a Chris Paul but he's a good passing guard that will give Hibbert and Granger their share of opportunities.
Speaking of Tyler Hansborough, this will pretty much be his rookie season. After missing last season due to an ear infection and complications to it, he hopes to return this year and have an impact on the team.
T.J. Ford is also another talented Indiana player who has battled with injuries. He played in 47 games last season and managed to average around 10 points a game. If he can stay healthy and strong throughout this season, his numbers will definitely improve.
Rookies Paul George and Lance Stephenson also will have an impact on this team as they look to start of their NBA careers with a good season.
However, it's not all about the players. There's a lot more that comes down to it during an entire season. Playing in a very tough division last season with Chicago and Cleveland as two really good teams, it was tough for Indiana to compete.
This season though, there's no more LeBron. No longer will the Cleveland Cavaliers be a front-runner in this conference or division. The Chicago Bulls will be the team to beat. With the addition of Carlos Boozer to play along with Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, they will be a very good trio of players. Kyle Korver's deep shooting will also be key in stretching out the defense to give Boozer a lot of opportunities under the basket.
Besides Chicago, however, the rest of the division is up for grabs. It comes down to a growing Milwaukee team, a declining Detroit team, and the LeBron-less Cavaliers. The Indiana Pacers have the talent to be the No. 2 team in this division.
If they can stay healthy, play to their potential, and continue to improve, the Pacers can definitely be a playoff team at the end of the season. While a lot can still happen, this team seems to finally be ready to step up into the role and start playing playoff basketball.